LONDON: Juan Antonio Pizzi has been rewarded for choreographing Saudi Arabia's first World Cup win in 24 years with a contract extension, the Saudi Arabian Football Federation (SAFF) has announced.
Recruited in November to replace Edgardo Bauza, Pizzi was only contracted to the federation until the end of the World Cup and his hopes of staying on beyond the tournament in Russia looked slim when Saudi Arabia slumped to a 5-0 defeat to the hosts on the opening night, causing much embarrassment and soul-searching for the federation. Federation president Adel Ezzat called the performance “totally unsatisfactory”, General Sports Authority chief Turki Al-Sheikh labelled the effort “a total fiasco" while SAFF vice president Nawaf Al-Temyat said the buck stops with Pizzi, saying "the coach is technically responsible for the loss of our team."
There was even talk of Saudi Arabia changing coaches mid-tournament, like they did in 1998 when World Cup-winning coach Alberto Parreira was fired. But Pizzi enjoyed a stay of execution at the hands of a federation who have made ten changes in as many years and managed to stop the rot against Uruguay, losing only 1-0 to a side ranked 14 in the world. The Argentine has been around long enough to know he needed a positive result against Egypt to keep his job and his team delivered, coming from behind to beat Egypt 2-1 on Monday. Their first World Cup win since they beat Belgium in 1994 meant they finished the tournament in third place in Group A and could return to the Kingdom with their heads held high.
Federation chiefs Ezzat and Al-Temyat were with the team throughout their stay in Russia and they clearly saw enough against Egypt and in training to believe that Pizzi is the man to lead them at the Asian Cup next year and they have handed him an extension. Pizzi hinted after the game that the Green Falcons camp was a harminous one and that they have been receptive to his methods, getting better as the tournament went on.
"I’d like to reiterate that I and the whole staff is really, really happy with the players and the way they have responded together with the response we have had from the association," he said.
Pizzi has won four of his 12 games in charge but he will be expected to improve that win ratio at the Asian Cup in the UAE. Bidding to win the tournament for the first time since 1996, Saudi Arabia are one of the favorites and have been drawn in a group along with Qatar, Lebanon and North Korea.
"Now we will focus on the Asian Cup and I am 100 percent convinced that we will continue to improve over the next six months," Pizzi said.
Beat Moldova 3-0
Lost to Iraq 4-1
Drew with Ukraine 1-1
Lost to Belgium 4-0
Beat Algeria 2-0
Beat Greece 2-0
Lost to Italy 2-1
Lost to Peru 3-0
Lost to Germany 2-1
Lost to Russia 5-0
Lost to Uruguay 1-0
Beat Egypt 2-0
Total record: P12 W4 D1 L7 GF13 GA23